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CHAPTER VI

THE GREAT DECISION.

Prospeots of Moses after the Ethiopian expedition-His leaning towards his

brethren - His “tour of inspection' - His remonstrances in high quarters ineffectual—Two possible courses open to him—The great decision-Moses casts in his lot with his brethren-His efforts to help them-His hasty homicide-His danger-His flight eastward-His arrival in Midian.

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Moses had returned from Ethiopia covered with glory. Whatever enmities or jealousies he may previously have aroused must have died away, or hid themselves, when it had to be generally acknowledged that the whole country was beholden to him and owed him a debt of gratitude. A tempting prospect of court favour, high employments, sounding titles, and rich emoluments, must have lain before him. In Egypt the Court was apt to accumulate its rewards on the favourite of the time being, and to think no amount of seemingly incompatible offices ill-bestowed upon the man who was recognized as deserving. An individual, named Ptah-ases, who lived under the old empire, was at one and the same time prophet of Phthah, of Sokari, and of Athor, priest of the temple of Sokari, and of that of Phthah at Memphis, prophet of Ra-Harmachis, of Ma, and of Horus, as well as overseer of the public granaries, royal secretary, chief of the mines, and “chief of the house of bronze.": A subject under the last Ramesses held in combination the offices of high-priest of Ammon at Thebes, chief of Upper and Lower Egypt, royal son of Kush, fan-bearer on the right hand of the king, chief architect,

De Rougé, “Recherches sur les Monuments des six premières Dyrasties,” pp. 68-72.

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and administrator of the granaries. The system of pluralities was an established one, and was rendered possible by the separation of emoluments from duties, the nominal holder receiving the high stipends attached to the several offices, while such duties as they involved were discharged by ill-paid deputies. Moses might have confidently looked forward to some such a position under Ramesses 11. as Ptah-ases had held under Aseskaf, or as Her-hor afterwards held under the last Ramesses, had he been content to make no change in the character of his life, but simply to continue in the rank and condition in which the circumstances of his birth and breeding had, without any effort of his own, placed him.

But underneath the smooth current of his life hitherto-a life of alternate luxury at the Court, and comparative hardness in the camp and in the discharge of his military duties—there had lurked, from childhood to youth, from youth to manhood, a secret discontent, perhaps a secret ambition. Moses, amid all his Egyptian surroundings, had never forgotten, had never wished to forget, that he was a Hebrew. The tale that in his earlier infancy he had refused the milk of Egyptian nurses, and starved himself till he could suck nutriment from a Hebrew breast, though a pure myth, is valuable, as indicative of his unceasing attachment to the race from which he was sprung. The more credible tradition that, while at Heliopolis, he always performed his prayers, according to the custom of his fathers, outside the walls of the city, in the open air, turning towards the sun-rising, 3 shows that he refused to conceal, under trying cir. cumstances, either his nationality or his religion. To the honour of the Hebrew people it must be said that they have at all times, and under all circumstances, unless perhaps sometimes where persecution was the cruellest, made open avowal of their faith, and submitted to the consequences of such avowal without shrinking. Moses had done this, but as yet he had not thrown in his lot with his people--he had remained an outsider-he had not even, it would seem, made himself acquainted with their actual condition, or had more than a vague knowledge of their sufferings. But the time was now come when he felt it incumbent on him to do more. He had attained a position of some authority. His voice had become of some weight in the counsels : Brugsch, “ History of Egypt," vol. ii. p. 191. • Josephus, "Ant. Jud.” ii. 9, § 5. 3 Josephus, " Contr. Apion.," ii. 2.

of the State. He might expect that any representations which he might make would command attention.

So he resolved on a tour of inspection. “He went out unto his brethren, and looked upon their burdens” (Exod. ii. 11). Alone, or accompanied by a few attendants, he passed through the portion of Egypt occupied by the Israelites, and by personal eye-witness made himself familiar, in every detail, with the condition of his people. And what was that condition ? One portion were working in the brickfields. Some were digging the stiff clay out of the hot pits, where no shade was possible, and no breath of air could touch them. Some were kneading the stiff clay into suppleness with their hands or with their feet, and mixing it with the straw which was required to bind together the soft material. Some were shaping the clay into bricks by means of a mould or form, into which the material was pressed, and from which it was subsequently turned out in the shape de. sired. Some were carrying heavy burdens of bricks upon their backs, either in baskets or by means of a yoke slung across the shoulders. Finally, some were arranging the bricks into stacks, where the drying would be completed, and whence they would be carried off by those employed in building.

Another portion utilized the bricks which had been made by their brethren. The “store-cities” of Pithom and Ramesses (Raamses), with their huge walls, their magazines and granaries, their temple-enclosures, their streets and squares, their mansions and residences, were the work of Israelite hands, which dug the foundations, emplaced the bricks, spread the mortar, and gradually raised up the walls and buildings to the prescribed height. Taking our stand on the mound of Tel-es-Maskoutah, and looking round about on the great massive wall enclosing it, 940 yards long, eight yards broad, and from fifteen to twenty feet high, on the tangle of store-chambers and other buildings spread over it, and the temple occupying its south-western angle, we see the actual works in which the Israelites of Moses' time were engaged, and in our wanderings may stand where he stood to consider, and weigh in the scales of truth, the heaviness of the burdens imposed upon them. The work of the builders was scarcely so severe as that of the brick-makers. It is, however, described as both unhealthy and unpleasant by Egyptian authors. “I tell you also of the builder of precincts,” says one ; “disease seizes on him (literally, 'tastes him'), for he is always in draughts of air ; he builds in slings, tied to the pillars of the house. His hands are worn with labour ; his clothes are out of order; he washes himself but once [in the day); for bread he eats his fingers.”

A section of the Israelites, if we may credit Philo," was employed in digging canals. In all countries this is heavy and clreary work; but in Egypt it is not only wearisome, but also unhealthy. To dig for long hours under a blazing sun, with the feet in wet mud or in water, is trying to any man : to ill-fed and ill-cared-for labourers it is often fatal. Neco, we are told, caused the death of 120,000 men by his attempt to re-open the canal between the Nile and the Red Sea.3 Ten thousand men perished under Mehemet Ali in the construction of the canal of Alexandria. The great work of M. Lesseps is believed to have proved fatal to a much larger number. Where deaths are numerous, cases of severe suffering short of death are countless; and we may conclude therefore that Moses would see, in the condition of such Israelites as were engaged in canal-digging, an intensified form of the "service with rigour," which prevailed generally.

One other occupation is mentioned as included in the oppression of Israel ; viz., labour" in the field "-employment, that is, in agriculture. At first sight, there might seem to be nothing very severe in this, since agricultural employment is the lot of the bulk of mankind everywhere. But there is an enormous difference between the kind of work done by free labourers in a land of liberty, and that exacted from forced labourers in countries where slavery is a recognized institution. Negro emancipation in the West Indies and in the Southern States of America, was brought about very much through the representations made by eye-witnesses of the severe drudgery and toil actually imposed on the slaves employed in the cultivation of the cotton-plant and the sugar-cane. In Egypt, as in most other countries, slaves worked under the lash. “ The little labourer having a field," says an Egyptian writer of about Moses' time,

passes his life among the beasts; he worn down for vines and figs, to make his kitchen of what his fields have. His clothes are a heavy weight ; he is bound as a forced labourer ; f he goes forth into the air, he suffers-he is bastinadoed with a stick on his legs-perhaps he seeks to save himself; but shut against him is the hall of every house, closed are the chambers." : Any stoppage, any cessation from toil, any rest, such as we see our own labourers freely taking as often as they require it, is punished, where the serf works under a task-master armed with a whip or stick, by a sharp blow on the legs, or arms, or back, which often raises a wheal or brings the blood to the surface. Blows may be infrequent; but the fear of a blow is perpetual ; and the labour is thus constant, unceasing, such as taxes the strength beyond endurance, the fear of the stick causing the labourer to work till he drops. Then, probably, he is kicked, and left lying on the ground in the hot sunshine, until he can crawl home to the wretched shed or cabin which is his restingplace at night.

: "Records of the Past," vol. viii. pp. 149, 150. • “Vit. Mosis," p. 85

3 Herodotus, ü. 158.

When Moses “ went out unto his brethren, and looked upon their burdens” (Exod. ii. 11), such were the sights that he would see, such the images that he would carry back from his tour of inspection, burnt into his memory, to be reproduced in his thoughts over and over again, as he lay on his couch of down in his apartments at the Court. And then would arise in his mind the question-Could he do nothing to help his brethren-to ameliorate their condition—to lessen their sufferings ? Probably the first course that would suggest itself would be remonstrance with those who were at the head of affairs—a representation to them of the guilt which they incurred, according to the laws of Egyptian morality, in conniving at the cruelties which he had witnessed. Egyptian morality required men to resist the oppressor, to put a stop to violence, to shield the weak against the strong," to be kind-hearted and generally benevolent. Moses, if he occupied the high position which we have supposed, may have expected that his words would have weight, that attention would be paid to his remonstrances, that, if he was not allowed to direct, he might at any rate be permitted to modify, the policy of the empire. Why,” he might urge, “should the Israelites be singled out for suspicion and hatred ? Were they not his brethren, and had not he shown unmistakably the good-will that animated him towards Egypt? What had they done to deserve their hard usage? Had they not been quiet subjects, useful servants of the king (Gen. xlvii. 6), an addition to the strength of Egypt?” But Moses would argue to minds blocked

I" Records of the Past," vol. vii. p. 149.

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